Africa at Noon on April 2, 2014

This event has been cancelled.

Genetic Indeterminism in Africa: The Politics of Fluid Science

Duana Fullwiley
Department of Anthropology
Standford University

Time and Loca­tion

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI


Sickle cell disease politics and care in Senegal, West Africa illustrate how North/South economic policies, postcolonial geo-politics, humanitarian priorities for Global Health, and the concrete effects of patient activism all influence how genetic science gets written.

In Senegal, the “beta globin genetic haplotype” found in Dakarois patients has been theorized to be a primary factor leading to “milder” sickle cell disease in Senegalese people. Fullwiley’s talk interrogates this correlative logic and calls for an enlargement of the conceptual terrain on which scientists map ideas of genetic causation. At the same time it brings into view the multiple hybrid possibilities that might also account for varied aspects of why people in Senegal present with less severe symptoms than others the world over. Through ethnography, she discusses a range of possible mitigating factors overlooked by genetic science.

Duana Fullwiley will explore these dynamics through the lens of what she calls genetic indeterminism and will also think about its consequence for large-scale genomics projects that are just getting underway in Africa today.


Duana Fullwiley is an anthropologist of science and medicine interested in how social identities, health outcomes, and molecular genetic findings increasingly intersect. She is the author of The Enculturated Gene: Sickle Cell Health Politics and Biological Difference in West Africa (Princeton, 2011), which draws on nearly a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the US, France and Senegal. She is currently finishing her second book on the embrace of race in the genomic era, entitled Tabula Raza: Mapping Race and Human Diversity in American Genome Science.

This lecture is supported by a UW-Madison Mellon Foundation grant for the advancement of area and international studies.